The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of WHOI Corporation Member Mary Draper Janney on October 7, at George Washington University Hospital. She was 91. Mary was a pioneer in the Washington, DC, women’s movement and a longtime civic activist.
Mary had longtime ties to Woods Hole as a summer resident of Penzance Point. She was a member of the corporation of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and was active in the restoration of Highfield Hall. She was the daughter of Mary C. and Ernest G. Draper. Her mother was an early advocate of birth control and associate of Margaret Sanger; her father was Assistant Secretary of Commerce under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A native of Brooklyn, New York, she graduated from Vassar College in 1942. She and two friends traveled to Iowa to form a community-wide council to coordinate the activities of townspeople involved in war work. It was the concept of the coordinating council that attracted the attention of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and prompted a White House invitation. Mrs. Roosevelt thought it could be usefully applied in other communities nationwide. With that project launched, Mrs. Janney returned to New York where she became executive director of New York City’s first interracial civil defense organization, the Harlem Riverside Civilian Defense Council. In 1944, she married World War II Naval aviator and highly decorated torpedo bomber pilot, Frederick Wistar Morris Janney, who was a summer resident of Gansett, Woods Hole.
In 1945, she and Marion Cole Smith opened the Little Harbor Bookshop in Woods Hole. When her husband returned from war, the couple enrolled in Yale University graduate programs. She received a master of arts in sociology, and he in Russian area studies. They moved to Washington, DC, when her husband accepted a position at the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Janney was a career CIA officer until his death in 1979.
For 12 years, Mary taught American History at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. She also took an active part in community affairs. In 1966, She cofounded Wider Opportunities for Women Inc. (WOW) and served as its president for 12 years. In the early 1970s, she was named a “Washingtonian of the Year” by Washingtonian Magazine for her work with WOW. Mary served as Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington until 1983. She then founded the Women’s College of Assistance Project as a local effort of WOW, seeking to help women on welfare escape poverty through access to education.
Mary ran for City Council and the Washington, DC, school board, was the executive director of the Washington chapter of the “I Have a Dream Foundation” and was chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of Vassar College. At age 85, she was the director of the Bard College Clemente course in the humanities, which took place at the Latin American Youth Center in Columbia Heights, Maryland. She sailed across the Atlantic Ocean at the age of 88, and enjoyed tennis, dancing and bridge. She leaves her two sons, Dr. Peter Janney of Beverly and Christopher Janney of Lexington and two grandchildren. She is also survived by many nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday at the All Souls Church Unitarian at 11:00 a.m., in Washington, followed by a reception at the Chevy Chase Club.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Highfield Hall in Falmouth.
Information for this obituary was taken from the Falmouth Enterprise.